ISLAMABAD: On its first day in office on Thursday, the newly-composed Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced the schedule for the long delayed mayoral elections in Sindh along with asking all federal and provincial lawmakers to submit their asset details by the end of September.According to the schedule, elections for the chairpersons and deputy chairpersons of the local government councils of Sindh and the mayor and deputy mayor of Karachi will be held on August 24. Returning officers (ROs) will issue public notices for the elections on August 3. Candidates can file nomination papers on August 5 and 6, and ROs will examine the papers from August 6 to 8.
The elections, which will be the final phase of setting up local governments in the province, have been pending for months due to one pretext or the other. Before they were postponed the last time, the polls were to be held on June 29. This schedule was withdrawn after the retirement of the four provincial members of the ECP on June 12 left the commission dysfunctional.
After bickering with the opposition for over a month, the government finally notified on Monday the appointment of three former judges – including for the first time a woman – and a retired bureaucrat as the members of ECP. The new members were sworn in on Wednesday.General members of local governments in Sindh and Punjab were elected in three phases – the last one ending last December – after an almost 10-year gap.
Elections were held in Larkana and Sukkar divisions on October 31 last year in the first phase, in Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and Shaheed Benazirabad divisions on November 15 in the second and Karachi on December 5 in the third phase. The Pakistan Peoples Party emerged as the leading party in Sindh while the Muttahida Qaumi Movement dominated Karachi when results were announced.
Once the directly elected members were elected, it was expected that the local governments would become functional immediately. However, the process to elect members on reserved seats and the heads of local governments suffered several delays, mostly due to litigation on the newly adopted system.
Complicating matters for the MQM now that the mayoral elections have finally been announced, the party’s nominee for Karachi mayor, Waseem Akhtar, is currently in law enforcers’ custody on serious charges.
According to media reports, Akhtar has confessed to playing a role in the May 12, 2007 incident where unknown gunmen shot at people who had gathered in Karachi to receive former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who at the time had been deposed by Pervez Musharraf. Some 50 people were killed in the incident. Akhtar, who was Sindh home minister at the time, has denied giving any such confessional statement.